Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan expressed cautious optimism about the return to school next week, noting that school settings previously contributed little to the spread of COVID-19.
In a statement on Sunday Dr Holohan said that this year’s back to school preparations are occurring at a time when there is still a high incidence of COVID in the country.
Ireland currently has one of the highest incidence rates in Europe, at more than 500 cases per 100,000 population in recent days.
Despite the strength of Ireland’s vaccination campaign, the Delta variant has resulted in a very high level of daily cases, and growing numbers of patients in hospital.
“It is important to remember that our experience to date is that the school environment was not a major source of disease transmission and that school reopening did not have a significant effect on the incidence of COVID-19 in children.
“In fact, any increase in incidence among children is often linked to the events that occur around school as much as the events that occur within school,” Tony Holohan said.
He added that he is conscious of the many sacrifices made by parents and teachers to allow schools to reopen, and cautioned that people need to continue following public health recommendations to keep them open.
“It is important that we continue to socialise safely and continue to adhere to the public health measures we are all so familiar with and that our schools have successfully implemented.”
“Wash hands or use hand sanitiser, wear a mask if this is what is recommended in your school environment, keep your distance and avoid crowds,” Tony Holohan said.
As with last year, all secondary level students will be required to wear a mask while in the classroom, unless they have a medical exemption.
Schools are also advised to have at least one metre of space between students, or two metres where possible.
One major difference between this year and last is the extent to which the vaccination campaign has progressed in the past few months.
Many teenagers are now fully or partially vaccinated, and the vaccine is now available to all who are at least 12 years old.
Dr Holohan added that parents need to take care to avoid sending children to school if they have any symptoms that could be COVID related.
“It is important to be aware of the symptoms of COVID-19 and do not send your child to school if they display any. These are cough, fever, headache, sore throat and blocked or runny nose.”
“If your child displays any of these symptoms, support them to isolate and contact your GP for advice and to arrange a test if appropriate. These measures will prevent transmission of the virus to others.”